Borneo Small Group Adventure by Claire Freeland

Claire Freeland

05 Aug 2016

Joining the group

It was with a little trepidation that I recently booked onto a small-group safari to Borneo with Natural World Safaris. For someone who usually travels with family and friends, this was my first time of joining a group as a single traveller.

We were a varied group who came together in, what is, clearly one of the most beautiful rainforest countries in the world. It was immediately evident that we all had the same travel/explorer passion, the most important elements of which were to understand this wonderful country's culture and to see as much of their wildlife and scenery possible. 

We were not disappointed!

On arrival in Sandakan, we visited the Orangutan Sanctuary at Sepilok. Due to this being a wild sanctuary where animals are allowed complete freedom within thousands of acres of wild forest, you are not guaranteed to see these majestic animals and whilst our first day's visit was perhaps a little limited (one!), we were not to be disappointed the second day with no less than six orangutans coming to the feeding platform along with giant squirrels and various other wonderful and really rather cheeky native primates. We were also able to visit the nursery, recently made famous by "Paul O'Grady's Animal Orphans." It has to be said that there was a tinge of disappointment in being able to only watch them from behind glass, however once you appreciate that visiting these youngsters has only been made possible in the last year or two, you realise how privileged you are to study them and watch their morning playtime - and playtime it is, a true sight to behold...

wildlife of the Kinabatangan River 

Moving on from Sepilok, we ventured to the awe-inspiring Kinabatangan River to do safari by boat. Heading out both early morning and evening, the river is no doubt the best (and probably only!) place to encounter the wildlife close at hand. Proboscis monkeys are aplenty, along with huge river crocodiles, many snake species, leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, elusive elephants and macaques who were regular occupants of both hotels. And the best sighting of all... wild orangutans, many with youngsters, something I was not expecting to encounter outside Sepilok - what a treat. 

On one of the evenings, a few of us even ventured into the Gomantong Caves, which whilst it must be said wasn't the most enjoyable half an hour of all time (!), really should be experienced by everyone. Both the Abai and Kinabatangan River Lodges are beautifully located, if a little more basic than some others we stayed. However they both provided our group with doorstep access to the river and really comfortable surroundings in which to enjoy the few days we had in the region. 

We then moved onto Danum Valley, which took the best part of a day to travel through diverse countryside and villages, most noticeably past acre upon acre of palm oil plantation. My initial reaction to this was that it was perhaps taking over, however on understanding that everything is tightly controlled in favour of both agriculture and wildlife, I was able appreciate a more realistic view of how humans and wildlife can live together. 

On arriving in the wonderful Borneo Rainforest Lodge, we were welcomed by levels of comfort and luxury that is clearly relatively hard to find in this ever developing part of the world. With a fully stocked bar (something quite difficult to find in Borneo!), a relaxing Wellness Centre and an incredible variety of local cuisine, one cannot afford to miss a few days in this beautiful lodge. It is here where we adventured onto the canopy walkways and for someone who is not good with heights, these really did provide the most fantastic views over the really dense rainforest. Our sightings here were once again phenomenal - more wild orangutans, many of them again with youngsters, red leaf monkeys, a slow norris, huge array of birdlife and lizards/reptiles, more inquisitive macaques, a leopard cat and the hugely elusive gibbons. There was even a track of clouded leopard footprints which reassured us that they really are around, albeit extremely difficult to see. 

Joining a small group for a holiday like this was absolutely superb.

It was wonderful to spend time with people from all walks of life who ultimately had so much in common. I cannot recommend Borneo more - be ready for the extreme heat and humidity, travel light, take part in everything on offer and be ready with the camera for very quick sightings. Or else, lap up the surroundings, enjoy the rather laid back approach to life and accept different levels of comfort that one might be used to in other destinations. Overall, revel in the fact that you will see a huge amount of wildlife along with hopefully plentiful wild orangutans. Something that was certainly my, and probably the group's, ultimate goal to encounter. 


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